De Lima hits NFA rice import policy

By Edu Punay, The Philippine Star

Posted at Mar 10 2014 09:25 AM | Updated as of Mar 10 2014 05:25 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has confirmed taking a position against the policy of the Department of Agriculture (DA) on rice importation.

De Lima admitted there has been a leak of a letter she sent to Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala where she stated that the government’s quantitative restrictions (QR) on rice importation under World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement are still binding.

“It was just a letter and not a legal opinion,” she said.

De Lima, however, expressed dismay over how the supposedly confidential letter was leaked to the media.

In the 12-page letter last December but which was only reported last month, De Lima said the National Food Authority (NFA) has no power to extend the imposition of QR following the expiration of government’s commitment to the World Trade Organization-General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (WTO-GATT) in June 2012.

She explained that while the agreement already expired, it had provisions saying extension of the QR on agricultural products “shall only be by agreement after the conduct of negotiations.”

De Lima believes such provisions are binding.

“To renege on this agreement, consent to which was manifested by the act of both the President and the Senate in accordance with the Philippine Constitution, is beyond the power of a mere implementing agency like the NFA, which must exercise its rule-making and regulatory powers in accordance with, and not contrary to, applicable laws,” read the opinion issued upon request of Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala.

“The WTO provisions on the lifting of QRs as well as their exceptions, and the provisions on negotiations for its extension are already effective and should be complied with. It is not for nothing that the Philippine government gave its consent to the WTO agreement,” added the DOJ opinion.

De Lima said the government is presently negotiating for the extension of the QR to 2017.

“There is thus no existing agreement to extend such authority (or, more accurately, grant a new one since the first one had already lapsed), the Philippine government should honor and implement the effect of the expiration of the period granted to it, under the principle of pacta sunt servanda (agreements must be kept),” she stressed.

The DOJ legal opinion, however, was not made public yet as De Lima said they would issue a more definitive legal opinion after considering varying interpretations.

Charges against judges

The Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG), an umbrella organization of 33 federations and organizations of various sectors of the agriculture industry, filed last Friday four separate administrative cases against three judges before the Supreme Court for knowingly rendering unjust judgment involving seized rice shipments.

SINAG chairman Rosendo So filed one case each against Judge Cicero Jurado Jr. of the Regional Trial Court National Capital Judicial Region Branch 11, Manila, Judge Eutiquio Quitain of RTC-Region IV, Branch 5, Lemery, Batangas and two separate cases against Judge Maria Paz Reyes-Yson, RTC National Capital Judicial Region-Branch 54 Manila.

The complaints were received last March 7 by the Office of the Court Administrator Docket and Clearance Division, copies of which were furnished The STAR.

The issue against Jurado emanated when the District Collector of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) for the Port of Manila seized the rice shipment in 480 shipping containers owned by Danilo G. Galang who is conducting business under the firm Hildegard Grains Enterprises.

Quitain’s case started when the district collector of the Bureau of Customs for the Port of Batangas seized the rice shipments of Ivy Souza who was using Bold Bidder Marketing and General Merchandise.

Reyes-Yson’s case started when the BOC in the Port of Manila seized the rice shipments of Starcraft International Trading Corp., represented by Eugene Pioquinto. Another case also involved the rice shipments of Marvin Mendoza under the name Silent Royalty Marketing.

SINAG said in its complaints that the BOC refused to release the rice shipments considering that the importation was made without permits from the NFA.